It is a huge moment for esports and a huge moment for Africa, says Ghanaian esports chief – and it’s changing lives across the continent too
For Kwesi Hayford, President of the Esports Association, Ghana, gaming isn’t just a passion – he sees it as a crucial tool for the socio-economic development of youth in Africa.
“Esports can teach discipline, teamwork, collaboration, and personal development,” said Hayford, 43, from Sekondi-Takoradi. “But more than that, esports is a space with so many employment opportunities.”
“Young people love to game, and that is pure. But the learning curve for gaining employment and useful skills is also short. You can learn to livestream easily and build a career through that. You can enter the media and broadcast space. There are opportunities to sit in front of the camera.”
“You can learn to host events. Then there is game production, graphic design, tournament management, facilitation, and logistics. These are all varied employment opportunities for Africa that don’t need extensive academic work. People can learn on the job and build better lives for themselves. Everyone can become an entrepreneur.”
Hayford himself is a great example. He grew up loving movie posters, comic books, animation, and design. He eventually played Tetris before an aunt in Germany sent him a Gameboy, which got him into Metroid. Xbox and PlayStation would follow.
From this love of play and design came a career. He studied visual arts at university, then found work as a creative director at a printing company, and now a theatre production firm.
Organizing gaming competitions at university also led him to co-found the Esports Association, Ghana. In 2010, a group tried to attend the Electronic Sports World Cup in France but didn’t make it due to visa issues. Instead, they organized pop-up events in restaurants and cafes.
This eventually evolved into an association with 75 sub-membership groups – mainly gaming cafes around the country. The non-profit has organized numerous international championships (a Birmingham, UK vs Accra inter-city battle was particularly popular).
“We have also partnered with other countries to help them develop their esports spaces too, like Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia, and Tanzania,” Hayford said. “This eventually led us to kickstart the African Esports Championships, with 15 countries in total.”
The Commonwealth Esports Championships will be next level, however. “This is a big opportunity for Africa, not just Ghana,” Hayford said. “It’s going to get the message out there that esports is real.
“Our players haven’t traveled before, but this is their passion. Parents ask me, ‘Is it really true my daughter is coming to the UK because of video games?’”
“I say yes –she is good, she has the drive and ability. She can become a world citizen because of esports. The CEC is all about opportunities, and it can open the world for Africans. It is a level playing field.”
“We can’t wait to write history, to fly our flag onstage in Birmingham and show that esports has come to stay, and that it is changing lives. The Global Esports Federation is doing fantastic work. Birmingham will showcase that esports can even be at the Olympics. All they are doing is in the right direction.
“Birmingham can open the eyes of people, of governments, of educational institutions. They can see esports from a different angle. Birmingham will give us a chance to tell our story.”
Can they perhaps even win medals? Hayford thinks so. “Our young female eFootball player has resilience and wild energy, she could go to the grand final. But this is not just about competition, it’s about the opportunities it offers.”
It’s a buzzword that Hayford keeps coming back to. He even sees the chance to fight major problems in Ghana through esports. “Young people have energy and if they have nothing to do, they will do anything they can to get some hype,” he said. “That might be guns and drugs. Esports gives them another way, a way to positively channel energy.
“I say take the gun out of the hand of the child and give him a controller. We can help create better livelihoods.”
Get your tickets to the first ever Commonwealth Esports Championships today.